The regional assembly of Serbia’s autonomous region of Vojvodina dissolved itself on November 16 and announced that early regional elections will be held on December 17 together with nationwide early parliamentary and local elections. Out of the assembly’s 120 members, 95, including those representing the ethnic-Hungarian minority accounting for 13 percent of the region’s 2 million inhabitants, voted in favor. Four lawmakers voted against. Regular elections were to be held by May 2 next year, but most lawmakers argued that holding the poll together with nationwide elections would save taxpayers’ money. Ethnic Hungarians are Vojvodina’s and Serbia’s largest ethnic minority. To read the original story by RFE/RL’s Balkan Service, click here.
The Russian Justice Ministry on November 17 added The Moscow Times, an online newspaper popular among Russia’s expatriate community, to its list of “foreign agents.” The designation means increased financial scrutiny for those designated and requires them to prominently include the label on anything they publish. It was not immediately clear how the move would affect The Moscow Times, which moved its editorial operations out of Russia in 2022 after the passage of a law imposing stiff penalties for publishing anything that the government deems discredits the Russian military and its war in Ukraine.
Ukraine and the United States will hold a conference in December to explore military-industrial cooperation, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and the U.S. National Security Council (NSC) said on November 17.
Zelenskiy said in his evening address that during his visit to Washington, he and President Joe Biden “agreed on specific steps we can take together” and these steps “will undoubtedly strengthen both Americans and Ukrainians, as well as our partners.”
Specifics of the arrangement were discussed recently with the participation of Andriy Yermak, head of the president’s office, and others on the government team, he said.
“In December of this year, a special conference involving Ukrainian and American industries, government officials, and other state actors will take place — everyone involved in organizing our defense,” Zelenskiy said.
He said Kyiv and Washington are “actively progressing” on the joint arms production issue.
The U.S. government will host the conference on December 6-7, NSC spokeswoman Adrienne Watson said in a statement.
U.S. and Ukrainian industry and government representatives will use the conference “to explore opportunities for co-production and other industrial cooperation in Ukraine,” she said, adding the event is part of the U.S. government’s “efforts to significantly increase weapons production to support Ukraine’s fight for freedom and security.”
The conference follows the International Defense Industries Forum hosted by Ukraine on September 29 and reinforces long-term commitments to the U.S. defense industrial base, Ukraine’s economic recovery, and “the joint commitment to enhance industrial, armaments, and security cooperation between both nations,” Watson said.
Kyiv has been ramping up efforts to produce its own weapons amid concerns that supplies from the West might slow down. It also hopes joint ventures with international armament producers can help revive its domestic industry.
Efforts to increase military industrial cooperation with other countries is not limited to the United States.
In October, Ukraine set up a joint defense venture with German arms manufacturer Rheinmetall AG to service and repair Western weapons sent to help Kyiv against Russia’s full-scale invasion. The venture will help with the localization of some key equipment produced by Rheinmetall, Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said in announcing the venture.
It will bring “cooperation between our countries to a qualitatively new level and will allow us to build together the arsenal of the free world,” Shmyhal said.
With reporting by Reuters
The International Court of Justice (ICJ) has published a preliminary order calling on Azerbaijan to ensure the safety of people who want to return to Nagorno-Karabakh following the Azerbaijani military’s lightning offensive in September that resulted in Baku regaining control of the disputed territory.
The ICJ decision on November 17 concluded that pending a final decision in the case, Azerbaijan must ensure that people who left Nagorno-Karabakh after September 19 and wish to return “are able to do so in a safe, unimpeded, and expeditious manner.”
The same applies to people who wish to depart Nagorno-Karabakh, while those who wish to stay must remain “free from the use of force or intimidation that may cause them to flee,” the court said in its decision, approved 13-2 by the judges.
The judges also called on Azerbaijan to “protect and preserve registration, identity, and private property documents and records” of people in the region and told the country to submit a report to the UN’s top court within eight weeks on the steps taken to apply the provisional measures.
The decision is a preliminary step in a case brought by Armenia accusing Azerbaijan of breaching an international convention against racial discrimination linked to Nagorno-Karabakh. Azerbaijan also has brought a case against Armenia alleging breaches of the same convention. It is likely to take years to resolve the cases.
The Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry said Baku welcomed the court’s decision, saying it confirms the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Azerbaijan.
“It is worth noting that the court also rejected the groundless and ridiculous request to withdraw the personnel of all the military and law enforcement agencies of Azerbaijan from the Karabakh region,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
According to the statement, the measures mentioned by the court accept the already declared policy of the Azerbaijani government regarding the Armenian residents of Karabakh.
“This includes our commitment to ensure the safety and security of all residents, regardless of national or ethnic origin,” it said.
The decision released on November 17 comes after Armenia asked The Hague-based ICJ to order so-called provisional measures guaranteeing safety and protecting property and identity documents.
Armenia made the request after Azerbaijan’s army routed ethnic Armenian forces in Nagorno-Karabakh in a 24-hour campaign that began on September 19. The region’s separatist government agreed within weeks to disband itself by the end of the year, prompting tens of thousands of ethnic Armenians to flee Nagorno-Karabakh.
The Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry’s statement reiterated the country’s position that it did not force out any ethnic Armenians and that many left despite the government’s call for them to stay.
Azerbaijani Deputy Foreign Minister Elnur Mammadov pledged at a hearing before the ICJ in October that Azerbaijan would do all it could to ensure the safety and rights of all citizens in the region.
The court said on November 17 that the pledges “are binding and create legal obligations for Azerbaijan.”
The ICJ decision also said that Azerbaijan’s operation in Nagorno-Karabakh took place in the context of “the long-standing exposure of the population of Nagorno-Karabakh to a situation of vulnerability and social precariousness.”
It said the residents of Nagorno-Karabakh “have been severely impacted by the long-lasting disruption of the connection between Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia via the Lachin Corridor.”
With reporting by AP
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Afghanistan says the deportation of hundreds of thousands of Afghans from Pakistan threatens to deepen the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan. The agency said on X, formerly known as Twitter, on November 17 that most of the returning Afghans have neither jobs nor homes and noted that Pakistan undertook the action just before winter. “The mass arrivals couldn’t have happened at a worse time,” UNHCR Afghanistan said. Islamabad announced last month that more than 1.7 million undocumented foreigners must leave by November 1 or face arrests and deportations. To read the original story by RFE/RL’s Radio Azadi, click here.
The Russian fleet has suffered “serious damage” largely caused by Ukrainian drones, according to Ukrainian Navy spokesman Dmytro Pletenchuk, who said the tactics have made Ukraine the driver of a new type of naval warfare.
Pletenchuk, speaking on Ukrainian television on November 17, claimed that 15 Russian ships have been destroyed and 12 damaged since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
“Not all of this is the result of the work of our drones,” he said, but they have caused “quite a lot of damage to enemy ships.”
Pletenchuk said this has made Ukraine a leader in “a new level of application of unmanned systems,” and is recognized as such.
“We have a separate team…that [uses] both surface and underwater drones. And not only for reconnaissance and demining, but also for destruction,” Pletenchuk said.
Russian forces in the Black Sea have recently “reduced significantly” thanks to the work of the Ukrainian defense forces, he claimed. He added that the Russian military has been forced to “remain as far away as possible and is significantly limited in its actions,” though the Ukrainian military previously has said that bad weather in autumn and winter typically forces Russian missile carriers to move into their base ports.
While the Russian position could be described as defensive, the enemy still has cruise missile carriers at its disposal, meaning the danger is still present, he noted.
Pletenchuk added that Ukrainian forces will continue their moves to weaken the Russian fleet.
“Of course, we will expand our influence at the first opportunity,” he said.
Russia has repeatedly claimed to have shot down drones over Crimea that appeared headed for its assets on the peninsula.
The Russian Defense Ministry said last week that a Ukrainian attack involving multiple drones on the Moscow-occupied Crimea region was repelled by Russian air defenses. A ministry statement said nine drones were destroyed and eight others were intercepted off the Black Sea coast of Crimea.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy last month pledged to keep pressure on Russian-occupied Crimea after an attempted drone attack on the Moscow fleet installation in Sevastopol.
Zelenskiy said on October 24 that while Ukrainian forces have not yet gained full fire control over Crimea and surrounding waters, the “illusions” of Russia’s domination of Crimea “are melting.”
The acting head of the Afghan UN mission has requested the release of Afghan dissident Parisa Azada. Naseer Ahmed Faiq said on X, formerly known as Twitter, that the detention of Azada by the Taliban is an act against Islamic and cultural values, as well as the fundamentals of human rights and freedom. His post on November 16 strongly condemned the arrest and demanded Azada’s immediate release, as well as the release of other women and human rights defenders. The Taliban arrested Azada, a member of the Women’s Movement for Justice and Freedom, last week in Kabul. To read the original story on RFE/RL’s Radio Azadi, click here.
The European Union on November 17 accused Russia of making a “shameful” use of migrants to put pressure on other countries, saying it had noted an increased number of undocumented asylum seekers crossing Russia’s border to Finland. Helsinki announced on November 16 that it will close four of its eight border crossings with Russia beginning this weekend because of the increased flow of asylum seekers. Finnish Prime Minister Petteri Orpo said Russia was deliberately seeking to destabilize his country in response to its accession to NATO this year.
Armenia has formally handed in its request to join the International Criminal Court (ICC) and will become a member in February, The Hague-based tribunal announced on November 17. Yerevan last month signed the ratification of the Rome Statute that recognizes the ICC’s jurisdiction. Armenia says this would allow the court’s prosecutors to investigate alleged crimes committed in Nagorno-Karabakh. Baku in September retook complete control of the region after a lightning offensive, resulting in some 120,000 ethnic Armenians fleeing across the border into Armenia. Yerevan has accused Baku of “ethnic cleansing” in the region, a claim Azerbaijan strongly denies.
The Russian Supreme Court will hear a lawsuit filed by the Justice Ministry calling for the “international LGBT movement” to be designated “extremist” and its activities in Russia banned.
The lawsuit will be heard on November 30, according to the Justice Ministry’s website.
The lawsuit, filed on November 17, alleges that “signs and manifestations of an extreme nature” had been identified in the “activities of the LGBT movement operating on the territory of the Russian Federation.”
The activities, the ministry added, included “the incitement of social and religious hatred” that it said violate Russia’s Law on Countering Extremist Activity.
The ministry did not define what it considered the “international LGBT movement” to be in its lawsuit.
In 2013, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed the country’s so-called “gay propaganda” law, which introduced harsh restrictions against the positive depiction of or raising awareness of homosexuality, which was decriminalized in Russia in the 1990s.
Since then, LGBT rights campaigners and hate-crime researchers have reported a notable uptick in violence and harassment against gays and lesbians, often from conservative activists or those espousing Orthodox Christian beliefs.
In 2022, Putin signed an expanded version of the law making it illegal for anyone in Russia to promote same-sex relationships or suggest that nonheterosexual orientations were “normal.”
In July, Putin signed into law legislation banning “medical interventions aimed at changing the sex of a person” and changing one’s gender in official documents or public records.
The latest legislation also bars transgender people from becoming foster or adoptive parents and bans marriages in which one person has “changed gender.”
Russia’s law has been widely criticized by rights watchdogs, the European Court of Human Rights, and the UN Human Rights Committee, which ruled in 2018 that the legislation violated international human rights agreements.
Speaking at a culture event in St. Petersburg on November 17, Putin called LGBT people “part of the society, too” and said they are entitled to winning various arts and culture awards. He did not comment on the Justice Ministry’s lawsuit targeting the “international LGBT movement.”
He also said Moscow has “no conflict with European society,” rather Russia is experiencing “difficult times” with the European elite.
With reporting by Reuters and dpa
The lower house of Russia’s parliament, the State Duma, approved a federal budget on November 17 that increases spending by around 25 percent in 2024 and devotes a record amount to defense. The budget for 2024-26 was developed specifically to fund the Russian military and to mitigate the impact of “17,500 sanctions” on Russia, State Duma Chairman Vyacheslav Volodin said. Under the spending plan, the country’s largest ever, defense spending is expected to overtake social spending next year for the first time in modern Russian history.
Britain’s new foreign secretary, David Cameron, visited Moldova after his trip to Ukraine and discussed security in the Black Sea and bilateral cooperation with Moldovan President Maia Sandu, the president’s office said on November 17. Cameron arrived in Moldova’s capital, Chisinau, on November 16 after a two-day visit to Ukraine, where he held talks with President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and traveled to the southern Odesa region, which borders Moldova. Pro-European Sandu has denounced Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, accused Moscow of plotting to oust her, and thrown her weight behind a drive for Moldova to secure European Union membership.
Tajikistan on November 17 announced plans to link with China’s telecommunications network in order to improve the mountainous, landlocked country’s Internet access as Beijing’s influence in Central Asia grows. Tajikistan has one of the slowest Internet services in the world despite improvements in recent years, with all traffic going through a center controlled by a government monopoly. The project will be carried out alongside the construction of a highway linking Dushanbe, the country’s capital in the west, with a town on its border with China, according to state news agency Khovar.
The Ukrainian military says it has established “several bridgeheads” on the eastern banks of the Dnieper River in Russian-occupied territory of the southern Kherson region following a “series of successful operations.”
The Ukrainian Marine Corps said in a statement published on Facebook on November 17 that operations were continuing on the eastern banks of the Dnieper and that Russian forces had suffered heavy losses “in manpower and equipment.”
Ukrainian forces are trying to push Russian forces away from the Dnieper to stop the shelling of civilian areas on the Ukrainian-held west bank, the General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces said on November 17.
Russian authorities in the Kherson region and Russian state news agencies earlier this week acknowledged that the river had been crossed by Ukrainian forces.
Russia’s TASS and RIA Novosti news agencies, citing the Russian Defense Ministry, reported this week that Russian commanders had ordered a “regrouping” of forces amid heavy fighting on the eastern banks of the Dnieper.
The stories were withdrawn without explanation within minutes of their publication on November 13, and the Russian Defense Ministry described the reports as a “provocation.”
On November 15, Russian authorities in the Kherson region for the first time acknowledged the presence of Ukrainian troops on the eastern banks of the Dnieper, saying they were concentrated near a railway bridge leading to the village of Krynky.
The Ukrainian operations center on a 45-kilometer stretch of Russian-controlled territory opposite Kherson, the regional capital retaken by Ukrainian forces one year ago.
The Dnieper River is seen as a formidable barrier to Ukraine’s months-long counteroffensive to retake Russian-controlled territory in southern Ukraine. To this point, the Ukrainian counteroffensives launched in June in the southeast and east have thus far not produced the anticipated results, prompting concerns from some of Ukraine’s Western allies.
Reports that Ukrainian forces have transported heavy military equipment and troops across the river and set up beachheads have fueled suggestions that Kyiv could be poised for a breakthrough on the southern front and open a new line of attack in the direction of the Crimean Peninsula, which has been controlled by Russia since 2014, when it was seized and illegally annexed by Moscow.
“The Ukrainians have seen an opportunity there and taken it,” said a Western official with intelligence knowledge speaking to the AP on condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive information.
Ukraine has portions of three brigades across the river and is expected to make small gains as the Russians have so far been unable to push them back, according to the official and others who spoke with the AP.
The head of Ukraine’s presidential office, Andriy Yermak, confirmed earlier this week that Ukraine had established a foothold on the eastern side of the Dnieper River. He also said Ukrainian troops had covered 70 percent of the distance toward Crimea, which he said Kyiv aims to “demilitarize.”
Washington has reaffirmed its support for peace talks between Azerbaijan and Armenia after Baku pulled out of an upcoming U.S.-hosted meeting citing allegedly “biased” remarks by a U.S. State Department official.
During a November 16 press briefing, State Department spokesman Matthew Miller reiterated that Washington continues “to support peace talks to resolve the issues between Azerbaijan and Armenia.”
“We would encourage the two parties to engage in those talks, whether they are here, whether they are somewhere else, and that’ll continue to be our policy,” he added.
The comments came after Baku said on November 16 that it would not participate in normalization talks with Yerevan that were planned in the United States this month.
“We do not consider it possible to hold the proposed meeting on the level of the foreign ministers of Azerbaijan and Armenia in Washington on November 20, 2023,” the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
The Foreign Ministry said the decision was in response to what it called “one-sided and biased remarks” made by the assistant U.S. secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, James O’Brien, in reference to Azerbaijan’s lightning offensive in September that resulted in Baku regaining control of the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh.
WATCH: Ethnic Armenian Rafik Sarkisian rode his beloved horse from Nagorno-Karabakh to safety in Armenia after Azerbaijani forces attacked Nagorno-Karabakh on September 19. He traveled for over 24 hours before a local Armenian family took in the exhausted 60-year-old.
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O’Brian said during a U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee meeting on November 15 that “nothing will be normal with Azerbaijan after the events of September 19 until we see progress on the peace track.”
“We’ve canceled a number of high-level visits, condemned [Baku’s] actions,” O’Brian added.
The Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry said the comments “were a blow to bilateral and multilateral relations between Azerbaijan and the United States.”
The September offensive ended three decades of rule by ethnic Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh, which is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan.
Armenia and Azerbaijan have fought two wars in the last three decades over the region, which had been a majority ethnic Armenian enclave since the Soviet collapse.
The region initially came under the control of ethnic Armenian forces, backed by the Armenian military, in separatist fighting that ended in 1994. During a war in 2020, however, Azerbaijan took back parts of Nagorno-Karabakh along with surrounding territory that Armenian forces had claimed during the earlier conflict.
Nearly 100,000 ethnic Armenians, most of the region’s ethnic Armenian population, fled to Armenia after the latest offensive by Azerbaijan effectively gave Baku control over the rest of the region.
In its November 16 statement, the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry also said that “such a unilateral approach by the United States could lead to the loss of the United States’ mediation role.”
The same day, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian said that Yerevan’s “political will to sign, in the coming months, a peace agreement with Azerbaijan remains unwavering.”
Pashinian and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev have held several rounds of talks under EU mediation, although Baku in September withdrew from two meetings planned by the European Union.
The same month, Aliyev also refused to attend a round of negotiations with Pashinian that were to be mediated by French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, and European Council President Charles Michel.
Baku cited France’s allegedly “biased position” against Armenia as the reason for skipping those talks in Spain.
A Russian delegation led by Natural Resources Minister Aleksandr Kozlov has left Pyongyang after a visit that North Korea’s state media said was to discuss “cooperation in trade, economy, science, and technology.” The delegation departed on November 17, the official Korean Central News Agency reported. South Korea has accused Pyongyang of having provided more than 1 million artillery rounds to Moscow for use in its war with Ukraine. Seoul says North Korea appears to have received advice on military satellite technology in return.
A demonstration by thousands of Bulgarian football fans in Sofia to demand the resignation of the president of the Bulgarian Football Union (BFS) and its leadership turned violent on November 16, resulting in injuries and arrests.
Minutes before the kickoff of a qualifying match between Bulgaria and Hungary for next year’s European football championship, fans began throwing homemade bombs, stones, and plastic bottles at the police, who warned protesters to stop before using water cannon to break up the demonstration.
Dozens of people were arrested, and local media reported several injuries among protesters and the police.
Bulgarian fans are angry with the BFS over the national team’s poor results, including recent losses to Albania in a friendly and to Lithuania in another qualifying match. Fans were further angered by a decision to move the November 16 match to Sofia and play it without fans in the stands.
The BFS was behind the decision to move the match from Plovdiv to Sofia, where it took place without an audience because of the “risk of riots.”
Fans said the move was “unprecedented” with no other case in football history in which a federation voluntarily asked to host a football match without fans.
Football fans and citizens for weeks have protested against the BFS and its leadership during domestic league matches, accusing it of mismanagement, corruption, lack of transparency, and a persistent refusal to take responsibility. BFS President Borislav Mihailov and the current management have headed the federation for 18 years.
The Bulgarian national team hasn’t qualified for a major tournament in nearly two decades, and the match on November 16 against Hungary added further insult when it ended in a 2-2 draw. Bulgaria looked set to win until defender Alex Petkov put the ball in his own net seven minutes into stoppage time. The point gave Hungary what it needed to secure its spot at Euro 2024 in Germany.
The protest that took place before and during the match involved fans of different football teams and ordinary citizens, all demanding the resignation of Mihailov, who was goalkeeper and captain of the national team that placed fourth at the 1994 World Cup.
More than 3,000 people gathered around the cordoned-off perimeter of Sofia’s Vasil Levski stadium, where thousands of police officers were also present.
The protest began peacefully with demonstrators chanting “Resignation,” “Down with BFS,” and “Mihailov out.” Some held posters with slogans opposing the leadership of the football union and its president.
Shortly after 6:20 p.m., tensions escalated after some of the demonstrators started throwing objects at the police. After several warnings failed to calm the situation, they used two water cannons and pushed the crowd back toward the Sports Ministry building.
The protesters set fire to a bus, and dozens of garbage cans were turned over and their contents set on fire.
Video recordings said to be taken at the scene showed citizens being beaten and arrested. The police also raided a bar, beating the patrons and arresting some of them.
With reporting by AP and Reuters
The U.S. Treasury Department has imposed sanctions on three maritime companies based in the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.) and three vessels owned by the companies for shipping Russian oil sold above a price cap imposed by the world’s major economies to reduce the amount of oil revenue Moscow has to fund its war in Ukraine.
The companies and the vessels are accused of engaging in the export of Russian crude oil priced above the $60 a barrel cap. The department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) said in announcing the sanctions on November 16 that the vessels used “U.S.-person services while transporting the Russian-origin crude oil.”
The price cap bans Western companies from providing such services, including insurance, finance, and shipping, for Russian seaborne oil exports sold above $60 a barrel.
The Group of Seven (G7) leading industrialized countries — Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and the United States — imposed the price cap last year after ruling out an outright ban on Russian seaborne oil in order to keep the commodtity flowing. Australia later joined the G7 in enforcing the price cap.
“Shipping companies and vessels participating in the Russian oil trade while using Price Cap Coalition service providers should fully understand that we will hold them accountable for compliance,” Deputy Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo said in the Treasury Department’s statement.
The United States is committed to maintaining market stability in spite of Russia’s war against Ukraine while at the same time “cutting into the profits the Kremlin is using to fund its illegal war,” Adeyemo added.
State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said the price cap continues to limit the impact of Russia’s war against Ukraine on global energy markets.
“Since our Coalition implemented the price cap policy, we have been clear in communicating that our aim is to prevent Russia from earning a steep wartime premium on its oil sales while also maintaining global energy market stability,” Miller said in a statement.
The action freezes any assets in U.S. jurisdiction owned by those targeted and generally bars Americans from dealing with them.
The U.A.E.-based firms targeted are Kazan Shipping Incorporated, Progress Shipping Company Limited, and Gallion Navigation Incorporated. The vessels are the Kazan, Ligovsky Prospect, and NS Century, the Treasury Department said.
The action comes a month after the Treasury Department imposed the first sanctions on owners of tankers accused of carrying Russian oil priced above the cap. One of the owners is in Turkey, the other is in the U.A.E.
With reporting by Reuters
The U.S. Treasury on November 16 imposed a broad set of sanctions on eight people and six entities across the Balkans accused of “perpetuating corruption and enabling Russian malign influence” in the region.
Included in the sanctions are Bosnian politicians who are accused of organized crime in Montenegro and firms and executives in North Macedonia tied to sanctioned Russians.
“Russia has continued to use its influence in the Western Balkans to stymie the region’s integration into international institutions and organizations, as well as leverage key jurisdictions to facilitate its aggressive destabilizing activities,” Brian Nelson, undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, said in a news release.
Three of the individuals designated for sanctions are Republika Srpska politicians Savo Cvijetinovic, a member of the executive board of Republika Srpska President Milorad Dodik’s political party; Petar Djokic, the minister of industry, energy, and mining in Republika Srpska; and Dusko Perovic, the long-serving head of Republika Srpska’s office in Moscow.
Cvijetinovic is a representative of the Republika Srpska-based company BN Inzinjering, which facilitated the illegal transfer of helicopter engines manufactured in Ukraine to Russia, the Treasury Department said.
Djokic was sanctioned for his backing of a pipeline from Croatia to a Russian-owned refinery in Republika Srpska, a deal that the Treasury Department said threatens the terms of the Dayton agreement that ended the 1992-95 Bosnian War.
The sanctions against Perovic were imposed because he has been integral in arranging interactions between Dodik and Russian officials, the department said.
Sanctions also were imposed against Miodrag “Daka” Davidovic in Montenegro, who, according to the department, has laundered money for decades for crime syndicates, and Branislav “Brano” Micunovic, who Treasury said for decades has been a leading figure in organized crime in Montenegro.
The Treasury Department also imposed sanctions on three people in North Macedonia — Sergei Samsonenko, a dual citizen of Russia and North Macedonia and a wealthy businessman; his wife, Irina Samsonenko; and Ratka Kunoska Kamceva. In addition, several entities linked to Kamcev were designated for alleged corruption and ties to Russia.
The U.S. State Department on November 16 also announced sanctions involving individuals and entities in the Balkans, accusing them of having connections to “Russia’s malign influence in the region and the corruption that enables it.”
The State Department designated politicians Misa Vacic, president of the Serbian Right Party in Serbia, and Nenad Popovic, who served as a Serbia minister without portfolio from 2017 to 2022 and founded the nationalist Serbian People’s Party in 2014. In addition, 12 of their Russia-based business networks were blacklisted.
Vacic served as an observer in Russia’s sham referenda in 2022 for the purported annexation of the Moscow-occupied regions of Ukraine. Vacic claimed in interviews to be an international observer invited by Russian President Vladimir Putin and advocated for the annexation of the regions by Russia.
Popovic owns numerous companies and holdings in Serbia and Russia. Since the 1990s, he has used his Russian-based businesses to enrich himself and gain close connections with Kremlin senior leaders, the Treasury Department said.
The sanctions freeze any assets held by the individuals and entities in U.S. jurisdictions and generally bars Americans from dealing with them.
The Kyrgyz State Committee of National Security has detained journalist Guljan Sheripbaeva for at least 48 hours on unspecified charges. Sheripbaeva’s relatives told RFE/RL that the owner of the Nazar News website was detained on November 16 at her workplace in Bishkek. In recent months, Sheripbaeva posted several articles on social media criticizing the Central Asian government. She has been known as a supporter of the former deputy chief of the Customs Service, Raimbek Matraimov, who in 2020-2021 was at the center of a scandal around a corruption scheme involving the transfer of hundreds of millions of dollars out of Kyrgyzstan. To read the original story by RFE/RL’s Kyrgyz Service, click here.
Prominent Iranian human rights activist and Nobel Prize laureate Narges Mohammadi, who is incarcerated in Tehran’s Evin prison, has been taken for a second time in 10 days to a hospital amid a protracted legal and health battle.
The decision, announced on Mohammadi’s Instagram account, came a day after officials blocked the move to a hospital because of her refusal to wear a compulsory hijab, or Islamic head scarf. The authorities’ stance has sparked wide-scale protests from her fellow inmates and supporters.
Medical tests conducted on November 8 revealed critical health concerns, including the blockage of two heart arteries and severe complications, such as fluid accumulation around the heart and esophageal inflammation. She was subsequently taken back to prison.
In the post on Instagram, Mohammadi’s relatives, who run the account, said the 2023 Nobel Peace Prize winner was to have further treatment for her heart.
For several weeks, Mohammadi required medical attention outside the prison but was denied a transfer due to her persistent refusal to conform to compulsory hijab rules. In response, Mohammadi embarked on a hunger strike, escalating her protest against the prison authorities’ decision.
Under increasing international pressure, the Iranian judiciary relented, allowing Mohammadi’s transfer to a medical facility. In a defiant statement on her Instagram on November 9, Mohammadi announced that her transfer to the hospital occurred “without a scarf and in a coat and skirt,” signaling an end to her hunger strike.
A similar scenario played out this week when she was again — at least initially — kept from transferring to a hospital over the hijab.
Renowned globally as a staunch advocate for the “Women, Life, Freedom” movement, Mohammadi was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize on October 6.
For years, Mohammadi has voiced dissent against the obligatory hijab rule imposed on Iranian women, as well as restrictions on women’s freedoms and rights in the country by its Islamic regime.
Mohammadi’s husband, Taghi Rahmani, said last week that the Nobel award had ratcheted up pressure on Mohammadi from officials, with some citing her statements as grounds for indictment.
He also noted Mohammadi’s steadfast refusal to revert to wearing the mandatory hijab, a stance reinforced since the “Woman, Life, Freedom” protests began after the September 2022 death of Mahsa Amini.
The 22-year-old died while in the custody of Tehran’s notorious morality police. They had detained her for an alleged head scarf violation.
Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL’s Radio Farda
An investigative report by RFE/RL’s Belarus Service says oligarch Alyaksey Aleksin, who is closely linked to the country’s authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka, has built an opulent residence named the “Family Nest” on the shores of the Zaslauskaye water reservoir near Minsk. A private entertainment complex and a 300-meter-long shooting field complete the property nearby. An RFE/RL investigation based on satellite images and data from closed registries revealed the property was developed following questionable decisions by Lukashenka and other officials after Aleksin obtained the land on extremely favorable terms from the Minsk Regional Executive Committee for 99 years. To read the original story by RFE/RL’s Belarus Service, click here.
After spending more than two weeks in detention, prominent Iranian human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh has been temporarily released, her husband said in a post on social media.
In the November 15 announcement on X, formerly Twitter, Reza Khandan posted a photograph capturing the moment of Sotoudeh’s release. She was not wearing a head scarf in the photo.
Sotoudeh was detained on October 29 during the funeral of 17-year-old Armita Garavand, who succumbed a day earlier to injuries suffered in an alleged confrontation with Iran’s morality police in the Tehran subway over a head-scarf violation.
Along with Sotoudeh, several others, including Manzar Zarabi, a mother advocating for justice over the January 2020 downing of a Ukrainian plane by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, was arrested. Reports indicate that Zarabi was released on October 30.
Sotoudeh has been a vocal advocate for numerous activists detained by the Islamic republic. Her career, marked by several arrests since 2010, has seen her endure periods of solitary confinement, highlighting the challenges faced by human rights defenders in Iran.
Radio Farda reported on November 6 that, following Sotoudeh’s arrest, she faces a new legal battle with the opening of a case against her, comprising four charges in total, including allegations of “assembly and collusion with the intent to disrupt national security, propaganda against the government, disturbing public order, and disobeying police orders.”
The hijab. or Islamic head scarf, became compulsory for women and girls over the age of 9 in 1981, two years after the Islamic Revolution in Iran. The move triggered protests that were swiftly crushed by the new authorities. Many women have flouted the rule over the years and pushed the boundaries of what officials say is acceptable clothing.
Women have also launched campaigns against the discriminatory law, although many have been pressured by the state and forced to leave the country.
The death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in September 2022 while in police custody for an alleged hijab violation released a wave of anger that has presented the Islamic regime with its biggest challenge since the revolution.
Garavand’s case, and suggestions of a cover-up by the authorities over what transpired in the teen’s last living moments, have drawn parallels with the events leading up to the death of Amini, which was also shrouded in mystery.
Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL’s Radio Farda
Afghan traders are asking Pakistan to release thousands of containers filled with imports stranded at the southern seaport of Karachi after authorities blocked their transit claiming the goods are being smuggled back into Pakistan after they arrive in Afghanistan.
Yunus Mohmand, the acting head of the Afghanistan Chamber of Commerce, said on November 16 that Pakistan’s actions are unjust. Islamabad claims it is losing millions of dollars in tax revenue because of the illegal smuggling as the goods are sent to Kabul duty-free.
“Creating such illegal obstacles for trade is having a terrible effect on the economy of both countries,” Mohmand told RFE/RL’s Radio Azadi, noting that new additional taxes on the goods would crush traders.
Mohmand said that the imports contain electronics and perishable foodstuffs.
On November 14, the minister for the Taliban’s de facto Ministry for Industry and Commerce, Nooruddin Azizi, raised the issue with Jalil Abbas Jilani, Pakistan’s caretaker foreign minister.
“Hundreds of these containers have been parked for several months, while some have been stuck for more than a year,” a Taliban diplomat in the northwestern city of Peshawar told the AFP news agency.
He said Kabul is seeking to lessen the losses of Afghan importers.
Pakistan’s blockade of Afghan transit goods is one of several critical issues plaguing relations with neighboring Afghanistan.
Since early October, more than 300,000 Afghan refugees have returned to their country after Islamabad announced a drive to deport more than 1.7 million undocumented migrants, most of whom are Afghan.
Afghans and ruling Taliban officials have accused Pakistani police and other law enforcement agencies of widespread abuses, including arbitrary arrests, torture, bribes, and harassment of Afghans across the country.
To open alternative international trade routes for Afghanistan, the Taliban regime’s deputy prime minister, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, secured access to Iran’s southeastern Chabahar Port.
Since the turn of the century, successive Afghan governments have sought to establish Chabahar as an alternative port to Karachi for their land-locked nation.
Police in Russia’s Republic of Tatarstan have searched the home and office of noted independent journalist Iskander Siradzhi in connection with a probe launched against RFE/RL correspondent Alsu Kurmasheva, who has been in detention center in Tatarstan’s capital, Kazan, since October 18.
Siradzhi said in a video statement on Instagram that police told him he is suspected of being linked to “a crime” that Kurmasheva is suspected of.
They spoke as if Kurmasheva “collected some information that is a state secret, as if Kurmasheva asked a professor about a number of people mobilized from his institute [to the war in Ukraine],” he said, adding that they spoke “as if it is a big crime. And as if I am somehow connected to that crime.”
Siradzhi said that law enforcement officers came to his home at 5.30 a.m. local time on November 16 and confiscated his and his wife’s telephones, as well their children’s computers.
Kurmasheva, a dual citizen of Russia and the United States who has worked for RFE/RL’s Tatar-Bashkir service for some 25 years, left Prague in mid-May to attend to a family emergency in her native Tatarstan, one of more than 20 Russian republics.
She was temporarily detained while waiting for her return flight on June 2 at the Kazan airport, where both of her passports and phone were confiscated.
After five months waiting for a decision, Kurmasheva was fined 10,000 rubles ($111) for failing to register her U.S. passport with Russian authorities.
While waiting for the return of her passports, Kurmasheva was detained again on October 18 and this time charged with failing to register as a foreign agent, a legal designation Russia has used since 2012 to label and punish critics of government policies. It has also been increasingly used to shut down civil society and media groups in Russia since the Kremlin launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
Since her arrest, Kurmasheva has had no contact with her family.
RFE/RL acting President Jeffrey Gedmin has rejected the charges against Kurmasheva saying she is being persecuted for her professional work.
Amnesty International, the UN Human Rights Office, the Committee to Protect Journalists, and the chairman of the U.S. House of Representative’s Foreign Affairs Committee have called for the immediate release of Kurmasheva.
Kurmasheva is one of four RFE/RL journalists — Andrey Kuznechyk, Ihar Losik, and Vladyslav Yesypenko are the other three — currently imprisoned on charges related to their work. Rights groups and RFE/RL have called repeatedly for the release of all four, saying they have been wrongly detained.
Losik is a blogger and contributor for RFE/RL’s Belarus Service who was convicted in December 2021 on several charges including the “organization and preparation of actions that grossly violate public order” and sentenced to 15 years in prison.
Kuznechyk, a web editor for RFE/RL’s Belarus Service, was sentenced in June 2022 to six years in prison following a trial that lasted no more than a few hours. He was convicted of “creating or participating in an extremist organization.”
Yesypenko, a dual Ukrainian-Russian citizen who contributed to Crimea.Realities, a regional news outlet of RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service, was sentenced in February 2022 to six years in prison by a Russian judge in occupied Crimea after a closed-door trial. He was convicted of “possession and transport of explosives,” a charge he steadfastly denies.
ST. PETERSBURG, Russia — A court in Russia’s second-largest city, St. Peterburg, has sentenced Aleksandra Skochilenko, a 33-year-old Russian artist, to seven years in prison for using price tags in a city store to distribute information about Moscow’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
The Vasilyevsky Ostrov district court pronounced its decision on November 16 after finding Skochilenko guilty of “distributing false information about Russian armed forces,” under Article 207.3 of the Criminal Code, which was bulldozed through both chambers of parliament and signed by Putin in a single day last year.
Dozens of journalists and people who came to support Skochilenko chanted: “Shame! Shame! Shame!” after Judge Oksana Demyasheva announced the ruling in President Vladimir Putin’s hometown.
Several municipal lawmakers and noted Russian director Aleksandr Sokurov were among those who were in attendance to support Skochilenko.
Opposition lawmaker Boris Vishnevsky said the court ruling “has nothing to do with law, justice, or humanism.”
“This is not a justice, this is a reprisal. Those who called this justice, I hope will be tried one day, though I don’t know when that will happen. I hope very much that Sasha (Skochilenko) will be released earlier,” Vishnevsky said.
Skochilenko was arrested in April 2022 after she replaced five price tags in a supermarket in late March with pieces of paper containing what investigators called “knowingly false information about the use of the Russian armed forces.”
In her final testimony hours before the verdict and sentence were handed down, Skochilenko reiterated her previous statement that her actions in the store were to promote peace.
Prosecutors asked the court last week to convict Skochilenko and sentence her to eight years in prison.
Skochilenko has several medical conditions, including a congenital heart defect, bipolar disorder, intolerance to gluten, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Since her arrest, rights groups have called for her immediate release.
Weeks after Russia started its ongoing unprovoked invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a law that allows for lengthy prison terms for distributing “deliberately false information” about Russian military operations as the Kremlin seeks to control the narrative about its war in Ukraine.
Article 207.3, which includes a prohibition on calling it a war — Moscow officially calls it a “special military operation” — represents a significant new phase in the Kremlin’s effort to stamp out opposition to the invasion in Ukraine and clamp down on dissent.
The law envisages sentences of up to 10 years in prison for individuals convicted of an offense, while the penalty for the distribution of “deliberately false information” about the Russian armed forces that leads to “serious consequences” is 15 years in prison.
It also makes it illegal “to make calls against the use of Russian troops to protect the interests of Russia” or “for discrediting such use” with a possible penalty of up to three years in prison. The same provision applies to calls for sanctions against Russia.